HS2 – they should have gone to ChinaSavers!

In 2009 the then Labour government set up a company called HS2 Ltd to look at the possibility of a northern version of the High Speed (HS)1 line running from London St Pancras to the Channel tunnel at Ashford in Kent.  The HS2 route would run from a new super station in Euston to Birmingham and split into two legs from there, one running into Manchester while the other went to Leeds. It was the Conservative/LibDem coalition government which made the HS2 project a reality in 2012.

The cost of this HS2 was supposed to be around £37.5 billion but the project has been dogged with many problems including popular local campaigns against routes, along with all the usual corruption associated with enterprises using public finance, and estimates made in 2020 of a final price, if it had been finished, were claimed by the Oakervee review to be possibly in the region of £106.6bn.  Here in 2023, with the Leeds leg long-since cancelled (2021), the Sunak government has now announced the cancellation of the Manchester leg as well, leaving a London to Birmingham only stretch of high-speed rail and recriminations on all sides. The expressed view of many who wanted the HS2 to be completed was that the final leg to Manchester was shelved to make money available for an electoral bribe (or tax cuts if you like) to the voters in a General Election that is bearing down on us. That may or may not be true but what is true is that capitalism has reached a level of incompetence that would have been unthinkable 100 years ago.  The old capitalism was just as uncaring about the lives of ordinary working people, but they did understand that they themselves needed a constantly upgraded and developed infrastructure to increase their profits and power. The present managers of the bourgeois dictatorship have mostly discarded production and concentrate on stock market bingo and coupon clipping. Business speculation if you prefer!

If Britain is ever to take part in manufacturing again, and it really does need to as the rest of the world grows up and stops listening to the dictates of the few imperialist nations, it will need an updated, reliable and smooth-running infrastructure.  Transport of people and goods in Britain is in a thoroughly miserable state, along with our fuel and water services, and, of course the food industries. The British parliamentary management or government has no answers.  The two main political parties have both been pro and anti-HS2 over the years.  Even Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Manchester who is ripping the Sunak government to pieces for cancelling the remainder of HS2, claiming that they have betrayed the North, in 2020 was saying that the Johnson government should prioritise a Liverpool-Leeds rail link over HS2! Mr Burnham claimed that a new Trans-Pennine line was far more important for northerners and that the Northern Powerhouse Railway (NPR) was needed urgently.  This was an echo of a call made in 2013 by Cllr Peter Box, then Labour leader of Wakefield Council, who said: “A lot of people in Wakefield are not convinced. I am not convinced,” [by HS2] and he further claimed that the line could suck investment and talent from the north to London saying that east-west links should be improved first. 

While the great and good of the main bourgeois parties snipe at each other, often from identical positions, it must be pointed out that for British industry to even survive in its current parlous state, let alone make any comeback, it needs a new improved infrastructure left to right and top to bottom, including Wales and Scotland! But of course, that will not happen under the current greed driven political system.

Rishi Sunak when telling the 2023 Tory conference that he was scrapping the last leg of HS2 claimed that “every penny” of the £36 billion he was saving would go into transport projects in the North. Of course, you cannot make such statements without them coming under scrutiny and some Rishi watchers have noticed that some of the smaller infrastructure projects he has suggested using that money for have already been completed, such as the Nottingham tram system extension to Clifton South which opened eight years ago. Others, like the A1 upgrade, have already been promised (but not delivered) by every Conservative-led government since 2010 which does not fill anyone with confidence and any new trans-Pennine line is no nearer.

There have been many ministers of state with some responsibility for rail since 2010. During their extremely short tenures these, largely now forgotten, ministers were incentivised to make new announcements and changes with little attention or care paid to the long-term consequences as they knew they wouldn’t be there to take any flak, or praise, and most people didn’t believe any of the promises that they made anyway.

Let us now have a glimpse of China over roughly the same timespan; –

Since 2008 about 37,900 kilometres (23,500 miles) of High Speed (HS) rail lines crisscrossing the country, linking all of its major cities have been completed.

That super impressive HS network is expected to roughly double in length again, to around 70,000 kilometres, by 2035.

By 2020, 75% of Chinese cities with a population of 500,000 or more had already achieved high-speed rail links and with maximum speeds of 350 kph (217 mph) on many of those lines, intercity rail travel has seen the previous dominance of airlines for many internal routes drop to second place.

On some of China’s HS routes, more than 80% of the track is elevated, zooming above densely packed cities and valuable agricultural land on seemingly endless concrete viaducts. More than 100 tunnels – each over 10 kilometres – have also been bored, along with spectacular long-span bridges thrown over natural obstacles such as the Yangtze River.

Comparing this to the western world we see Spain, which has Europe’s most extensive high-speed network but even this is tiny in comparison to China with just over 2,000 miles of dedicated lines operating at over 250 kph.

Looking next at the number one imperialist nation in the world, the USA, it has only one rail route that qualifies as a high-speed track and that is Amtrak’s North East Corridor, where some trains can currently reach 240 kph but only on relatively small and very expensively rebuilt sections of the existing line that is shared between commuter and freight trains.

Back to Britain, during the same time that China laid 37,900 kilometres of HS track, not even mentioning the viaducts and super brand new stations, imperialist Britain has managed 107 Kilometres!

The sheer size of China and its tremendous variations in terrain, geology and climate have presented the country’s railway engineers with incredible challenges. But the last ten years or so have seen China become the undisputed leader of HS railways in the world, from the high-tech super stations to the sheer amount of track and the incredible speeds that they are reaching safely with their HS trains. Chinese manufacturing and distribution has a massive edge on the world because they have ploughed money back into their infrastructure and manufacturing base.  They are not only lifting their own people out of poverty at an incredible rate but they are transferring their technology, expertise and assistance to many others across the world to help them do the same. This is what frightens the imperialist vampires of the US, UK and EU.